Four hundred years ago, Italian astronomer Galileo was persecuted for advancing Copernicus’s theory that the earth and other planets rotate around the sun. This heliocentric theory violated the prevailing belief dating back to Aristotle and engrained in Christian theology that the sun and planets rotate around a stationary earth. Galileo was tried for heresy and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. Science would eventually vindicate Galileo.
Today’s scientists and physicians face a different orthodoxy that explains all disparate health outcomes as the result of structural or systemic racism. Doubters and those who investigate genetic and scientific alternative explanations face their own latter-day inquisition. Just ask Howard Bauchner, editor in chief of JAMA — the Journal of the American Medical Association — who was recently forced to resign. While the remaining JAMA editors offered fulsome praise in a farewell editorial citing his accomplishments, including a commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, make no mistake: He was purged for a thoughtcrime.
Dr. Bauchner’s offense was that he presided over JAMA when it aired a podcast titled “Structural Racism for Doctors — What Is It?” in late February. The podcast featured two white physicians — JAMA deputy editor Ed Livingston and Mitchell Katz, an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine, president and CEO of New York City’s public-hospital system NYC Health + Hospitals, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Katz described structural racism as societal policies or practices that perpetuate racial inequality, as opposed to individuals’ racist beliefs. Dr. Livingston wondered if “structural racism is an unfortunate term to describe a very real problem.” (emphasis added) He worried that people offended by being labeled racist would not address the societal barriers to equal opportunity. JAMA’s tweet promoting the podcast stated, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care? An explanation of the idea by doctors for doctors. . . .”
Criticism of the podcast and tweet was fierce. After clarifying that JAMA is editorially independent from the AMA, Dr. Aletha Maybank, the AMA’s chief health-equity officer, tweeted that the podcast was “absolutely appalling & at its very core is a demonstration of structural & institutional racism.” AMA CEO Dr. James Madara condemned the JAMA podcast and tweet as inconsistent with the policies and views of the AMA and declared, “Structural racism in health care and our society exists.”
While Bauchner did not author or approve the podcast or the clumsy, misleading tweet promoting it, he tweeted an apology for the harm caused by them and for his “lapses” and reaffirmed JAMA’s commitment to “call out and discuss the adverse effects of injustice, inequity, and racism in medicine and society.” He withdrew the podcast, replacing it with an apology for its allegedly inaccurate, offensive, and hurtful comments. Bauchner declared that “racism and structural racism exist in the U.S. and in health care.”
Livingston, the podcast host, resigned from JAMA at Bauchner’s request. Two weeks after, Bauchner himself would be placed on administrative leave by the AMA pending an investigation. Now, two months later, he is gone, too.
It isn’t as if Bauchner and the AMA previously ignored racism. The AMA acknowledged its own history of discriminatory practices in 2008 and this past November labeled racism as a public-health threat. JAMA and other associated AMA publications have published a plethora of articles discussing systemic racism in medicine and restorative justice for communities of color. Bauchner’s apology withdrawing the podcast transcript had links to 115 articles in the JAMA family of journals addressing racism and inequities in medicine. A more recent apology from 15 editors in the JAMA family of journals lists more than 650 “articles on race, racism, and racial and ethnic disparities and inequities” in their journals since 2015. An August 20, 2020, editorial in JAMA Network Open — the AMA’s monthly open-access medical journal — titled “Call for Papers on Prevention and the Effects of Systemic Racism in Health” stated there is “an emerging consensus” that systemic racism exists in society and medicine, referenced ten articles discussing racism and health disparities in AMA publications, and was accompanied by another editorial titled “Responsibility of Medical Journals in Addressing Racism in Health Care.”
Other medical organizations have been similarly confessional. An October 2020 policy statement on racism and health from the American College of Physicians indicts the organization for past discriminatory practices, calls for policies to address discrimination and racism in health care, medical education, law enforcement, and society, and commits the ACP “to being an antiracist organization.” The New England Journal of Medicine has published 70 articles on race and medicine in the past two years.
Read the full article at National Review.